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by Ross Mack - GUI Computing
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Until NT5 is available let's make our experience of NT4 as pleasant as possible.

In a typical show of brilliance with NT5 in Beta and the computing press already in "will NT5 suck ?" mode it seemed like the ideal time to publish a few notes on installing and configuring NT4. You had better read this now, it'll be redundant soon and then you will have missed your chance.

Plug and Play cards.

This is a trap that has tripped me up a couple of times (am I mixing my metaphors ?) so I suspect it probably will cause others some pain as well. When NT 4 installs it includes Plug and Play support for PCI devices where your motherboard and BIOS support Plug and Play devices. That's great. However, many people, including me, have ISA devices that support Plug and Play. ISA Plug and Play sound cards, for example, are still very common. Fortunately, there is a way to have NT recognise these devices and use Plug and Play to configure them. If you look on your NT4 CD you will find a directory called 'drvlib' and under that directory is a variety of updated or OEM drivers for various cards and devices that may or may not be amongst the standard set of drivers NT4 supports. You will also find in this directory a subdirectory called 'pnpisa'. Within this directory is NT's support for Plug and Play ISA cards, as the name would suggest. There are subdirectories under that for each type of processor (MIPS, Alpha, PPC and X86). To install Plug and Play support for ISA devices simply navigate to the appropriate directory for your architecture and right click on the 'pnpisa.inf' file contained therein and select 'Install' from the context menu. NT will perform a quick install and prompt you to reboot.

When NT comes up again it should detect any Plug and Play ISA devices you have and will go through a normal Plug and Play device install process for each such device.

Some plug and play devices can also be detected through normal methods (network cards, particularly) but this will allow you to detect otherwise hidden devices.

A Quicker Install.

The Windows NT install process can be very arduous and take some time. However, there is one simple way to speed up the process that it not overtly documented, although it is mentioned in a readme somewhere. If the computer you are installing NT onto has an existing operating system and can read it's CDROM drive (or a Network CD, or an image of the NT CD on a normal drive) you can bypass the need for floppy disks in the install process.

Normally when doing this type of install, directly from CD, you would go into the i386 directory and run the file winnt.exe. This begins the install process. One of the first things it does is prompt you to insert 3 floppy disks in turn which it turns into a bootable kernel of NT that is used to complete the install. This whole step can be avoided by simply including the '/b' parameter on the command line when you run winnt.exe. Like this:

winnt /b

This parameter tells the install not to use floppy disks, but to write the boot information and install kernel to the boot-up hard disk on the system. This means that you don't need floppy disks at all, the hard disk (c: is used for this portion of the install instead.

This makes the process a little quicker and removes the need for all that swapping of floppy disks both for writing and for boot up.

Processor Utilisation.

NT comes with a bunch of standard screen savers that will be familiar to most, identical to those that ship with Windows 95. It also comes with a selection of screen savers that use OpenGL, an enhanced set of graphic libraries to do some even funkier stuff on screen. These screen savers can look really cool but beware of using them. The processing overhead of running these more intensive screen savers can reduce performance of your server.

The really insidious thing is that you don't usually consider that a screen saver would have this form of impact and as soon as you start to examine the server closely to figure out where the processor cycles are going the problem disappears, for obvious reasons. With more recent hardware, Pentium II or K6 processors with decent graphics cards that have some form of 3D acceleration you may never even notice the difference, but older servers (486 based processors, particularly) may be a different story.

DHCP Notes.

Here is a small grab bag of stuff to keep in mind when using NT as a DHCP server. If you are running TCP/IP DHCP (Dynamic Host Configuration Protocol) is a great way to manage and centrally administer the IP settings of all it's clients. If you do not use DHCP or even TCP/IP ignore this section.

These notes come directly from problems I have seen in the last few weeks, so pay attention. This may be happening to you.

It is possible to configure a DHCP range and subnet mask that the DHCP manager will approve and allow you to activate, that will actually not provide any addresses to be allocated. Check and recheck your subnet mask and make sure it allows allocation of addresses within the range you have specified. Otherwise you will inexplicably not be able to lease an address from a client even though everything else seems to be working fine.

When you configure a DHCP range ensure that you set the appropriate options on the range. These options specify what additional information to provide to the DHCP clients other than just their IP address. This is available under DHCP Options in DHCP Manager. Options can be set at three levels.

Typically you will want to specify only a few options unless your network has specific requirements for more. Common options would include the address of any DNS Servers, WINS Servers (which also requires a Node Type setting), Gateways, and Domain Names. Specifying a WINS (Windows Internet Name Server) server is particularly useful as it will allow DHCP clients to quickly resolve IP addresses into NetBIOS names without resorting to broadcasting.

For more information on DHCP, WINS and DNS see the NT Books Online, it has quite reasonable information on the role of all these services and how they fit together.

Those using DHCP with Service Pack 3 may not also be aware that an additional option was made available sometime after Service Pack 1. Under the Server|Properties menu item in DHCP manager there is an option to have DHCP ping any address before assigning it to a client. This will allow the server to determine if an address it was going to assign is already in use by another host. If this is the case the next available address will be chosen. Such detected addresses will show in the DHCP Scope's Active Leases list as a BAD_ADDRESS entry. Using this feature should avoid most occurrences of IP address conflicts on your network.

Where possible it's also a good idea to reserve any IP addresses you know to be used by other hosts. This is done, again in DHCP Manager, using the Scope|Add Reservations menu item.

OEM Drivers.

When installing drivers for various hardware on your NT4 box be sure to check the drvlib directory for an additional drivere for your particular card or device. The drivers found in this directory are not produced by microsoft and are therefore not part of the standard install. However, some of them have additional functionality or configuration options that are not available in the standard Microsoft driver.

For example, the alternate driver for some Network cards will include additional facilities for low level diagnostics, where the Microsoft driver might just work or not. In some cases a driver may not be available for your device in the standard set of NT drivers and you will need to resort to this directory to find a driver that works. Of course, if you have a newer NT driver provided by the manufacturer of the device it's usually advisable to use that.

Of course if you have any concerns about NT support for a particular device these can usually be resolved by checking the Hardware Compatibility List (HCL.HLP) in the \support subdirectory of your Windows NT CD.


That's all for now. Hopefully you will find something useful in the above somewhere, sometime.

Written by: Ross Mack
April '98

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